How to Obtain and Qualify for an J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa Program

Qualifying and obtaining an J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa is a complex and fact specific process and the information below is a general overview. Please consult with an attorney at Theta Law Firm with your specific facts. An attorney is vital to help those interested in participating in a exchange program and their families through the process of obtaining an J-1 Exchange Visa in a timely fashion that will not disrupt or interfere with your goals.

Is the J-1 Visa for me?

The J-1 Exchange Visa Visitor Program allows an individual having residence in a foreign country to come to the United States under 14 current exchange program categories temporarily to train, study, teach, work, or travel within the United States through various sponsoring organizations. The goal of these programs is to promote the interchange or persons, knowledge, and skills, in the fields of education, arts, and science. The J-1Visa currently encompasses the following 14 major exchange program categories[1]:

  • Au Pair & EduCare
  • Camp Counselor
  • Government Visitor
  • Intern
  • International Visitor through Department of State
  • Physician
  • Professor and Research Scholar
  • Short-term Scholar
  • Specialist
  • Student at College or University
  • Student in Secondary School
  • Summer Work Travel
  • Teacher
  • Trainee
J-1 Visa Eligibility & Application Requirements

The first and perhaps the most important requirement to beginning the J-1 Exchange Visa process, is locating and directly contacting a sponsoring organization in the category that you want to pursue. A list of sponsoring organizations can be found here:

The following eligibility requirements must then be fulfilled once you have found and contacted the appropriate sponsoring organization that meets your goals and interests:

    1. The individual sponsoring organization will determine if you are eligible based on distinctive requirements that are different for every program category. Meaning that if you are applying for the teacher category with your sponsoring organization they may require an interview and other materials that a person applying for the summer work travel category would not need.
    2. All participants need to be proficient in the English language no matter the category that they choose[2].
    3. All participants of the J-1 Exchange Program and any J-2 dependents (spouses and minor unmarried children under the age 21) are required to have medical insurance at levels mandated in the program regulations. A sponsoring organization has the duty to verify this requirement and help find insurance for those that do not have it or do not meet the minimum standards[3].
    4. All participants must reside abroad and have a residence that they do not intend on deserting upon their travel to the United States.
    5. Sponsoring organizations are required to provide the participant with specific information about the program (including any contract duties) before they leave their home country[4].
    6. Sponsoring organizations are also required to provide an orientation to the arriving participants and monitor how the participants are doing throughout the duration of the program stay (sponsors will need to ensure that the participants are staying within the bounds of their program, they will need to have current and up-to-date contact information for the participants, and will need to provide participants with a way to contact the sponsor at any time)[5].
Once you have been accepted into the program that you want to participate in, you will be enrolled in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). You or your sponsor will also likely have to pay a SEVIS I-901 fee and you may have to pay additional program fees.

J-1 Visa Filing Procedure

You have found the program that you want and a sponsoring organization, now what?

    1. Your sponsor will add you to the SEVIS system and a form will be generated. This form is DS-2019, Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status and it will be provided to you by the program sponsor to submit. Spouses and children under the age of 21 that are accompanying you will need their own separate DS-2019 forms.
    2. Schedule an interview at the United States embassy or consulate in the country where you live (those under 13 or older than 80 usually do not need to interview).
    3. You will need a valid passport for travel to the United States.
    4. Fill out and submit Form DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (can be accessed through Make sure that you keep the confirmation page that you will have to bring with you to the interview at the embassy or consulate.
    5. You will be required to upload a color photograph of yourself taken within the last six months when submitting Form DS-160. For more information regarding the photograph requirements please go to
    6. You may also be required to submit a single separate 2x2 photograph of yourself.
    7. If you are participating in the Trainee or Intern J-1 Exchange Programs, you will also need to submit Form DS-7002, Training/Internship Placement Plan form[6].
    8. Pay the current $160 application fee and any other fees that may apply.
    9. Then make sure you attend your J-1 Visa interview.
There may be additional documentation needed depending on the program that you apply for and your local United States consulate or embassy. Contact an attorney at Theta Law Firm to help guide you through the process and advise you if there are any other requirements that you will need to meet.

Length of Stay

You will be allowed to enter the United States no more than 30 days before your J-1 Visa Exchange Program begins. You have the ability to stay in the United States for a set duration period to fulfill the type of program you applied for and under the terms you reached with your sponsoring organization.

Several J-1 programs come under the purview of the so-called two year home country requirement. This requirement means that you will be required to return to your home country and be physically present there for two years at the end of your J-1 exchange visitor program. This requirement applies if you participate in the following programs:

    1. Government funded exchange program (program funded in whole or in part by either the United States government or the government of the participants home country)
    2. Graduate medical education or training program
    3. Specialized knowledge or skill (the participants home country of residence has deemed his or her field of knowledge or skill to be necessary to the development of the home country)
NOTE that you may be eligible for a waiver of this two-year home country requirement[7]. Please consult with an attorney at Theta Law Firm to be advised if you qualify for a waiver and to see how a lawyer can assist you with the obtaining such a waiver. Counsel is extremely helpful in this circumstance because obtaining such a waiver can be labor intensive.

Can I Work With a J-1 Visa
There are some programs through the exchange program that are specifically designed for the participant to work (researcher, teacher, professor, au pair). You can only work under the J-1 Visa Visitor Exchange Program if the terms of the exchange program you are undertaking authorize you to work.

Family of J-1 Visa Qualifying Applicants

A spouse and any children under the age of 21 may accompany a J-1 Exchange Visitor as they obtain J-2 status. Spouses and children of J-1 exchange visa visitors may apply for work authorization by filing a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization with fee[8]. If approved, there is no specific restriction as to where the J-2 spouse or child may work. However, your working spouse or child may not use their income from this United States employment to support you, the J-1 exchange participant.

[1] For the entire list and for more information regarding each category, visit:
[2] 22 CFR 62.10(a)(2).
[3] The current minimum insurance benefits required are: Medical benefits of at least $50,000 per accident or illness, repatriation of remains in the amount of $7,500, expenses associated with the medical evacuation of the exchange visitor to his or her home country in the amount of $10,000, and a deductible not to exceed $500 per accident or illness. 22 CFR 62.14.
[4] 22 CFR 62.10 (b)(1-8).
[5] 22 CFR 62.10 (c)(1-7); 22 CFR 62.10(e).
[6] Form DS-7002, Training/Internship Placement Plan Form can be found at:
[7] More information concerning the waiver to this requirement can be found at:
[8] Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization may be found at:

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